By St. Louis Public Radio, Marshall Griffin
The only task the Missouri General Assembly is required by law to accomplish has been accomplished and, for the second year in a row, accomplished two weeks before deadline.
Lawmakers have sent a roughly $27.2 billion state budget to Gov. Jay Nixon that increases spending on higher education as a whole, while specifically cutting funding from the University of Missouri System.
House and Senate Republicans insisted on sending a message to the UM Board of Curators expressing their disapproval over how last fall’s unrest on the Mizzou campus was handled. That message manifested itself in a $3.8 million cut that targets the administration.
It’s a compromise between the House, which sought a much larger cut of $7.8 million, and the Senate, which backed a $1 million cut.
Some Democrats, including Rep. Stephen Webber of Columbia, argued that low-income employees of the university system will be the ones who actually get hurt.
“This retaliatory cut is not negatively impacting any administrators,” Webber said. “It is being felt by the maintenance workers, the folks who actually make the University of Missouri system run.”
He cited plans by the Mizzou campus in Columbia to lay off 50 maintenance workers due to lost revenue from declining enrollment.
Other lawmakers said they were careful to ensure the $3.8 million reduction won’t hurt students.
“We have record funding for higher education,” said Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob. “We were pleased to get the higher education community to commit to not raising tuition this year by giving them a 4 percent (overall) increase.”
K-12 schools to get a smaller increase
Missouri’s public schools will get a $71 million boost in spending. It’s a little less than the $85 million increase Gov. Nixon called for in his State of the State Address, and a lot less than the roughly $450 million the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education officially requested.
Rep. Margo McNeil, D-Florissant, says the legislature continually puts education funding on the back burner.
“I don’t know how we become really committed to education until we change our practices and put our money where our mouth is,” said McNeil. “I’m disappointed with this budget, and I’m disappointed with this process.”
But Fitzpatrick, who helped negotiate the final version of the state budget, says the funding formula to determine public schools’ basic aid needs is outdated.
“There have been some things in the existing formula that have been exploited,” he said. “Summer school enrollment has been driven up because it helps districts get more money. (Districts are) pushing as many people onto free and reduced lunch as possible. Some of those extras in the foundation formula right now have really driven the cost up and it’s just been impossible to keep up with.”
That formula was established in 2010 when lawmakers predicted extra lottery and gaming revenue. This week, the House voted to reinstate a 5 percent growth cap on the funding formula.
In a brief written statement, Nixon criticized lawmakers for providing “less funding for our K-12 classrooms than I recommended.”
Medicaid and Planned Parenthood
The Republican-led majority in both chambers also barred the use of Medicaid funding by any abortion provider in the state, namely, Planned Parenthood. Democrats argued the move would backfire and lead to even more unwanted pregnancies.
“To defund them means that you’re taking away access to the one thing that we know, outside of abstinence, reduces and prevents unwanted pregnancies, which is contraception,” said Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City. “I would like to see the numbers next year, (after) this goes through, how many abortions have increased because of the number of unwanted pregnancies that could have been prevented through the use of contraception.”
Other Democrats argued that barring Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid dollars would violate federal law. To sidestep that legal roadblock, GOP leaders rejected $8 million in federal funding that would have gone to the Department of Social Services. Budget writers instead increased state funding to that department.
“Taxpayers in the state of Missouri simply are no longer going to fund Planned Parenthood,” said Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia.
The final version of the Fiscal Year 2017 budget also revives the Department of Transportation’s cost-share program, in which local governments would pay part of the cost of a road or bridge project in exchange for speeding up construction.
The program was suspended two years ago due to MoDOT’s bleak transportation funding outlook, but the picture has improved a bit due to last year’s federal highway bill and recent increases in fuel tax collections.
Lawmakers have allocated $20 million for the renewed cost-share program.